You may have read my previous post that mentioned torching everything on my Twitter account except for my current pinned Tweet and a few ornaments. Among the things torched were my live-reads of various philosophical texts, with images of the text. I had always intended to go back and clean my notes up significantly because that is a Highly Important aspect of studying.
Last summer, long before the pandemic, I read the Parmenides commentary by Proclus. Edward Butler recommended that I read it (and the Parmenides) before the Timaeus (omgs thank you), which is how I started my side tangent on the Republic, Proclus’ Republic commentaries, and the Laws. I’m about 2/3 of the way through Proclus’ Timaeus commentary, and I’ve given up on live-blogging it because the length of the Timaeus commentary makes that idea very daunting until I have a better idea of where everything is going.
I’m cleaning up these notes a lot, but due to how they copied from Twitter, the pages are still a bit out of order. (All text comes from last summer unless otherwise noted; I’m definitely not at a gym during the pandemic!) Think of it as a very dim reflection of how difficult split Twitter threads can be to follow, preserved for posterity. Enjoy.
We begin with the introduction.
This is something from the Anonymous Commentary on the Parmenides that might belong to Porphyry (or someone). What is interesting about this is that the sun’s rising and setting are discussed — it’s either referring to the Earth’s rotation or to heliocentricity or perhaps both at once, depending on the context of the original.
Note 9/29/20: This is not the only place where heliocentricity appears. I was very agitated by Proclus’ discussion of heliocentricity in the Timaeus commentary and dismayed by his position against precession. (I know the science wasn’t there yet but still.) My heart deflated and was rent upon the rocks of a stormy sea. The anonymous person seems to be taking things a bit more cleanly, and it will be exciting to read lol.
I need to look up this general system and really feel like I could benefit from either a diagram or some kind of abstract art piece to get what is at each level.
Note 9/29/20: This makes me laugh because I understand this enough to be like “oh yeah that thing!” now? Chlup’s Proclus: An Introduction contains some fabulous diagrams. I think that reading all of the Platonism I have read in the past year+ has hammered in some of these things that seemed so overwhelming in the beginning.
Both Proclus and Hermias developed commentaries derived from their teacher’s lectures/conversations — but we don’t have any extant original thought of Hermias, and I think that’s what the monograph I read was getting at? Proclus is the student who moved beyond the teacher and ended up at the head of the Academy quite early on in life …
Note 9/29/20: Regarding Hermias, I think I wrote “we don’t have any extant original thought” because it’s highly likely that the Phaedrus commentary is mostly fleshed-out lecture notes and that the thought is Syrianus. I’m still absolutely floored that Proclus was in an upper-level administrative position in the Athenian school in his late twenties.
This section is going through what the “soul” of a dialogue is — its arguments — and the general topic of the dialogue. I think it’s interesting how, here and in pages not shown, people are trying to say that the Late Platonic interpretation of this dialogue is innovative when it just seems inevitable? I mean, Parmenides literally tells Socrates “nope, let’s try this thing so you know the technique b/c you have reached the farthest you can without it!”
I am not 100% sold yet (but again, haven’t read the commentary of Proclus) on the dialogue already containing everything that the Late Platonists saw in it. Plato was raising questions, and he left the end of the dialogue very open-ended. The Late Platonists found a way to thread the needle through the dialogue to arrive at meaning that is at once derived from the dialogue and at the same time builds on it to create something new-yet-grounded.
Note 9/29/20: I am dying a bit inside because I totally forgot that Morrow and Dillon went over this. Danielle Layne has analyzed the Anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy and created some amazing tables, including a really good one that goes over the dialogues and the ways that they are constructed. It’s in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Plato in Antiquity. Other than that, it’s interesting for me to have written that I wasn’t 100% sold yet; after May 2019, I was forcing the brakes so I didn’t get carried away with how excited I was about what I was reading. The experience I had while reading Hermias was very brain-melting and I was a bit afraid and suspicious of it. Something I have been very conscious of since I was young was when people in the community had experiences or entered into more mysticism-laden practices and then ended up falling into hubris and unreason and fragmenting back into a place worse than where they were elevated to, only this time, harming others in their wake — and this danger seems relentless. Thus, I have a hardness in my head and heart like a shield, and I find it hard to relax that vigilance. It reminds me of a passage in the Phaedo about how people can be hardened to others and how damaging that is for them. Moving on.
OK none of these philosophers has ever had an argument with anyone on Twitter b/c it didn’t exist sooo.
But more seriously — Parmenides recommends dialectic to the young Socrates, but Socrates does not participate in the demonstration of dialectic that Parmenides has. Instead, Aristotle-not-the-Aristotle is the one who is the youngest and plays the role; Parmenides says “his answer would allow me a breathing space,” which probably means that someone that young is not yet mentally ready enough to be formidable at dialectic like someone slightly older.
Note 9/29/20: That joke about Twitter must have seemed obvious when I wrote it.
This passage is very interesting because it reminds me of some of the things I’ve been thinking about over the past few days with regards to that fallow period in my twenties when it doesn’t seem that I was very focused on Apollon at all. Instead, I was focused on Hermes, and recently, I had the impression that Hermes handed me back off. I was considering whether or not it was a good thing that I did have that fallow time, and I do believe that it was because it helped me through a lot of things that I think were necessary in order to turn back towards the God.
This reminds me of the section in the Yoga Sūtras about how teachers grow corrupt sometimes, even if it is directed at philosophical people more generally.
Now we move on to Proclus’ actual translated words.
Proclus is packing in a lot of meaning into this in a way that is thematic with the translations I have read of his hymns. 🙌
This is an aside, but I found a description of Proclus’ daily habits in the general introduction to be inspirationally intimidating. I wish I could get as much done. 😲
Okay, done for the night, off to the gym. Just have to say that I’m very happy when monographs include notes at the bottom of the page because it is so much easier than flipping.
This contrasts Syrianus from what was proposed before (which admittedly I did not understand 100% — I had to find a diagram to help me because diagrams are nice for understanding). Proclus then veers off on his own to talk about unification = deification.
I am grateful that I have read up to the mid-twenties of the Elements of Theology, but less happy that I have only read up to the mid-twenties of the Elements of Theology.
I spent about five minutes thinking, “Wow, this prose flows fast,” and then I got to page thirty-four. I really need to have made a diagram, perhaps, or definitely.
Update: I googled “plotinus OR proclus OR iamblichus OR syrianus diagram”
Someone has legit made a Pinterest board called “16 Best neoplatonism images,” and only slightly more than half are, in fact, even related to Platonism. One of the images is indeed a picture of Einstein. Many of the diagrams that are not part of the Pinterest lineup do look somewhat like the bead-and-wire-and-disks art installation piece I thought up in my mind for how I would try to articulate what I understand of this system so far.
“The supreme God” could either mean the Henads (as Gods at their highest, most self-sufficient level) or referring to the One. EPB would perhaps say the former; one would have to consult the text and be very familiar with Proclus’ thought to know, right? There are also entities that are “more than a unity” because they have other entities “hanging” off of them and participating in them.
Note 9/29/20: Rereading this passage reminded me of something that I saw on Twitter before I left, one of those so-and-so-liked/replied-to-this things that shows up in a social media feed like encouragement to eavesdrop, in which someone called Platonism monotheistic instead of polytheistic. The blood drained from my heart and I unraveled at the seams like an overhandled child’s doll, but considering that much of the bare-bones-basics information about Platonism online has been put up by either cultural or bona fide Christians, I could see how that could be misconstrued. Platonism is polytheistic and has a lot of Gods and intermediaries. The passage here originally confused me a bit in the way it was describing the One, and I had a lot of doubts about whether I was right about there not being a supreme God in Platonism, but this has been clarified by reading other things by Proclus and also just even stuff farther along in the Parmenides commentary.
Existing in a substratum could mean that the One is a substratum/existing as a substratum — which backs up later comments about how it is a principle, not necessarily a god as the monotheists take it, among Damascius —and here it is discussing the One as a character in something, as in something that participates in the substratum. Again, if I understand this at all. (Proclus did, in fact, say that it wasn’t really a substratum earlier — he explicitly said not.)
There’s a bit after this about the Greater and Lesser Panathenaea, where the Parmenides and the Timaeus respectively take place during each; and so that is significant because it is in the domain of Athene. It is also interesting in the part that I haven’t photographed that the English translation renders Athene’s symbols (the peplos) and festivals in the past tense, but she herself in the present tense. This befits her as a Goddess, but I cannot help but wonder at the restraint shown to discuss the rights that have been stripped away from her. Perhaps the commentary is so long because it is trying to document just how symbolic the myths and cultural references are — someone in a few hundred years would be raised only on the Bible, after all — and so an entire cultural language will end up being lost. Does Proclus intuit that?
Note 9/29/20: The bit about math at the end makes me think of something exciting that I just read in the Timaeus commentary: “But doubtless Plato secretly used mathematical terminology like a disguise for the truth of things, just as the Orphic Theologians used myths and the Pythagoreans used symbols. For it is possible to see the paradigms in the images and it is possible to make the transition to the paradigms through the images” (Timaeus commentary, Book 3, Pt. II, 246.4-8).
These two images (above) can be taken together. (1) This is yet another passage among Platonists that emphasizes how poets operate, and I think this is important to note down for my work. (2) The differences between One and Being are discussed in terms of divine names and hierarchy. Here, Orphism is being taken as the esoteric version of Hellenic theology.
This point is well taken. I think also that Parmenides and Socrates have well established that Socrates has gone beyond the point at which philosophizing without dialectic is helpful; ergo, he needs to be taught a method that can take him farther. Proclus seems to be saying this in a different way.
Laws are written for most people, not for exceptions.
This section is discussing the serendipity that happens when souls are being led upward.
Note 9/29/20: This passage is so very beautiful, especially the bit at the top of the righthand page about good fortune leading people where they need to go.
“[W]e must not confuse the doctrine about Forms with those about the gods […] but study the gods in themselves, distinct from essences and multiplicity.” Page 176, Proclus’ Parmenides commentary.
Note 9/29/20: When I was preparing myself to return to the Google Document with these images/note captures, this passage was the one open in the tab for such a long time. Indeed, we must not confuse the doctrine about Forms with those about the Gods. Also, I wasn’t writing in a library book — this comes from the copy I purchased later, and I am not kidding when I said that my export captured things in an agglomeration.
Note 9/29/20: I deleted some images that were comparing the bit about tyranny to other traditions (specifically, yoga) regarding how people in a semi-elevated state can fall back into materiality and do horrible things. One of the reasons I’ve taken a step back from the Internet is related to watching all of this in our societies at large and feeling powerless against the more destructive manifestations of the many-headed hunger appetite for power and control.
Back to one of the section intros written by the translators.
Note 9/29/20: I probably photographed this because it is highlighting where Proclus discusses receptivity to the Gods. It probably isn’t an answer to the Christian concept of grace, though, because, as a presenter to my college Classical Mythology class said, a God loves those who are like limself, so these ideas were already present in Greek religion.
And back to the commentary.
The contrast between the Lesser Panathenaea and the Greater Panathenaea is something I want to remember. Discussions of physical symbols/festivals are rendered in past tense, but discussion of Athena herself is in present tense.
You can perhaps take it as a given that every single time someone mentions poets and goes on for more than two lines, I take a picture.
I’ve now reached the point of reading this in which I wished I were not using a library book, but something I could write in. This passage is talking about what is meant by the happenstance encounter of finding the exact things one needs at the right time.
I started making hand gestures while reading just so I could spatially mark concepts out and my girlfriend gave me the weirdest look. But also! I think I have now seen something in situ that I have possibly seen cited by scholars sometimes, and the context is really helpful.
Oooh, I like this — p. 89-90 (Proclus on Parmenides 128d):
“Nor do we think it proper to put in speech all that we think of, for there are many matters that we keep secret and unexpressed, preferring to guard them in the enclosures of our minds. Nor do we put in writing all that we express in speech; we want to keep some things in our memories unwritten, or deposit them in the imaginations and thoughts of friends, not in lifeless things. Nor do we publish indiscriminately to all the world everything that we commit to writing, but only to those who are worthy of sharing them, indulging with discrimination our eagerness to make our treasures common property with others.”
Interestingly, there is a goddess in my specfic writing whose primary epithet is the One Who Brings Things Together, Likhera. Not the same usage here contextually, as Likhera brings unlike things into new union. This passage is relating Likeness/Unlikeness to Limit/Unlimited.
So actually, Professor Dillon, I did find this confusing. 🤦 I was worried that I was missing some way in which they were different in Proclus, and I only saw this footnote by happenstance. But then again I’m probably not in the target audience for this book so. 😨
Sometimes when I’m reading this, since I’ve read Hermias’ notes based on Syrianus’ Phaedrus lectures (within which Hermias records Proclus asking a question), there’s a surreal ghost of a mutual pupil-hood in my head in which they go to bakeries and borrow each other’s pens.
Note 9/29/20: The passage below marks when I received my inexpensive used copy from Alibris and started writing in the margins.
The upper part of this was interesting for (1) the examples of arts that elevate the soul + have Forms & (2) things related to science-in-the-modern-sense but not explicitly. The bottom part was interesting for what it says about gods.
The introductions (by John Dillon) to each book in Proclus’ commentary remind me of when opera comes on NPR and they do those summaries of the plot. This looks fun and I can’t wait to get there lol …
“It is not really a division of the gods, but of themselves with respect to the gods.”
… aaaaand then the section ended and I still wanted to know more. 🥺
Note 9/29/20: The “more” is in Proclus’ Essays 5 and 6 on the Republic. I’d recommend reading those to anyone who is interested in philosophical interpretations of myth.
Proclus discusses knowability & the Forms on p. 280 and 281 of the Morrow & Dillon translation of the Parmenides commentary. (1) Another type of understanding called intellection, different from knowing by knowledge; (2) looking at the problem theologically and philosophically.
Coolbeans, this is one of the sections I’ve been looking forward to reading. p. 282 & p. 283
(1) Qualities of an ideal student: natural ability, experience, enthusiasm.
(2) Some qualities of an ideal teacher. Note the part about not publicizing secret doctrines about the gods.
Note 9/29/20: I often captured images of passages about ideal students to share to deal with my anxiety about whether or not I had enough of those qualities to actually be successful in reading the Platonists. Intellectual confidence is something that I really need to work on.
This is a very beautiful passage about Beauty and Goodness’ roles. Love it.
Hmmm, this looks a bit hierarchical. Zeus directs a variety of gods, incl. Apollon, Iris, Hermes, Athene; I wonder what this means theologically & philosophically in more depth. A chunk from p. 293.
FYI — the section the last quote-grab is from is talking about Mastership & Slavery as Forms, which is problematic, thus painful to read. 😠 Updated, less problematic terms would likely be Guardianship/Dependency (or some variation) based on what is actually in the section, perhaps. 😬🤔
This is talking about the implications of removing the divine from some type of connection with the cosmos.
Like this is me right now. I am here for this section. All I have to do is post a link to a podcast I was listening to and I can finish these next few pages. 😍🍿
The end of Book IV includes sections on the best type of person to hear/understand/know the discourses (WRT the Forms), and it also sets the bar for one who is best able to teach — basically aptitudes, prereqs, and training. It’s always very fascinating to read this.
And by “always” I mean that it’s an echo of things said in earlier sections — some of which is part of my reading thread. “Fascinating” b/c it shows how someone thinks and is an indirect window into a few social dynamics that must have existed in the Late Platonic schools.
These sections do underscore just how voyeuristic it is for me to be reading this because I lack about 30-40% of the qualities and skills described as leading to understanding the material. It’s fun to read out-of-discipline and above my level, though.
I find this passage linguistically and conceptually interesting in the way it refers to roots as the topmost parts. Page 409.
Note 9/29/20: This is now a standing image I return to again and again in poetry. I feel like the metaphors I use and my imagery toolkits are being assimilated to Platonism so significantly it isn’t funny. 😂😭
Some things about the One — page 422 and page 454. The phrase “the fount of all divinity” is very nice. So is “but the One itself is nothing else than Divinity Itself, through which all gods derive their quality of being gods […].”
Note 9/29/20: I think the image below is a good one to look at for an explanation of what the One is within the Platonic hierarchy. Platonism is polytheistic. 🙃
Right after this, I reached the part about Eternity and Time, and I was so excited that I went a bit overboard with marginalia. I wonder why things are sometimes called a “mixture”/”mixed” and not harmonized — Eternity seems like the harmonization of Limit & Unlimited, but 🤷♀️.
I finished Book VI. Note: The farther I read into Proclus’ Parmenides commentary, the more minor typographic errors I am catching — periods instead of commas, one instance of “be” instead of “he.” Copyeditor must’ve been getting tired.
In a side-thread, I said that I was writing marginal notes about dimensionality and points and whether the One could be likened to them (and decided no). Apparently I was just jumping the gun like I am notoriously prone to do in learning settings.
This next thing, I’m just posting for fun — I doodled some notes in the margins. They’re “fun” because this isn’t how I’d actually draw any of this if I had space to do so. There would be arrows and probably some squiggly lines and also points.
I passed this section of the commentary several days ago and only now decided to post it. The part about the Soul vivifying everything reminds me of a lot of the unsettling questions I have about plants and other non-Animalia. 1167f.
This part discusses Time and the way it is used by Orpheus &c. when weaving divine matters together into stories and the like. Very fun.
1234ff is also cool — can’t post an image b/c it’s too much at once, but I wonder how much of this discussion relies on the complex verb tense system in Greek (and other PIE-descended langs) and how the same concepts would’ve been described in a different linguistic enviro.
I’ve got about 25 pages left to read, incidentally. It’s only 6:45 PM. Sooooo. 🤷♀️🙃🥰🙏
… and done.
“Done” is kind of a loaded term. It’s more like “OK I’ve finished this, where is the after-party,” AKA I’m deciding from among the set of things I need to read the path I want to take. Probably the Chaldean Oracles, Elements of Theology, or EPB’s essays on Proclus? 📚 IDK yet …
The reading circuit choice in my immediate future reminds me of what I’m contemplating right now from Cosmological Koans. Fun book. Very unsettling open-ended questions.
So that’s what happened when I read the Parmenides commentary last year. I often feel like I’m struggling in the texts I’m now reading, especially with the harmonics stuff in the Timaeus commentary, but maybe I am not so clueless as it sometimes feels. I mean, reading back over these comments, I was struck by just how often my brain went, “Oh, right, and then in this other text …” — so I’m by no means expert in anything, but I’m competent enough to be somewhat conversational.
Happy end of September!